New Digital Agreement: the Quest for a Natural Law of a Digital Society

Digital New Deal

I have been working on “New Digital Agreement: the Quest for a Natural Law of a Digital Society” since 2004. I’ve changed my mind several times and only now am I convinced that I am asking the right questions in order to understand the decades of technological, legal and social change ahead of us.

At this stage of my research there can be no “passive readers”!

You must challenge my assumptions and my thoughts. I will listen on the Wook!

To do so, we need new technology: the <<Wook!>>: an interactive eBook, where author and readers can discuss using all features of today’s social networks.

All feedback is welcome and necessary to create the reading/discussion tool for shaping knowledge together, the same way it was shaped 2,000 years ago, through the dialectic process at the Platonic Academy.(#1#)

I can wait no longer: I need your feedback on the Wook!.

Introduction / Abstract

Dear Readers,

You have the chance to ask questions, criticize and interact with me – even if you are in Tokyo or San Francisco. In order to be able to do this, we could not rely on books, not even on e-books!

This is why I implemented the <<Wook!>> technology to publish the New Digital Agreement.

The New Digital Agreement offers a fresh understanding of reality and a pro-active approach to knowledge. The barrier between the “reader” (hungry for knowledge) and the “author” (disseminating knowledge) has been torn down: using the <<Wook!>> the reader participates in the creation, evolution and dissemination of what they read. The author is no longer isolated and forced to provide static, “final” knowledge on a subject, but is able to collaborate with their readers in creating and disseminating knowledge.

An interactive multimedia book is an essential tool for understanding and shaping the evolving digital society, so this technology is now here to stay. The passive, static, unchangeable old book will be used only when a text should no longer be altered: poetry, classical literature, and any other ultimate content.

In the past, most of the content in our highly dynamic human society was static prior to publication – books, magazines and newspapers all had lead times; with printed books taking a minimum of four months to edit, print and circulate, Now, there is the need for a medium to create and share knowledge from inception: and an ambitious author will not always want to be alone when they give birth to a great idea.


Flash back to Christmas 1999 – While reading the millennium issue of the Economist, I had an epiphany. In the article “Road to Riches,” some data of Angus Maddison were summarized in a graph, showing the increase in productivity of the West.

When I saw the graph, I was aware that the productivity curve had to flatten, so I prepared for this eventuality.

My investments began to pay off in 2006. My business thrived and eventually tripled in a market that was decreasing, if not collapsing, like in real estate (which was more than half of my business at the time, the rest being consulting in corporate law).

The article in the Economist had fundamentally confirmed that exceptional and exponential growth of wealth and knowledge in the past century is still unacceptable for a large majority of people. It was no coincidence, that in May 2012, another article by Bagehot (Yes! Again in the Economist) was summarizing my thoughts: “The Nightmare Scenario” – a reality of austerity and spending cuts, debt, intermittent growth and relative decline –

I am not sure I have the solution. Possibly, there is no solution other than to reconsider reality starting from new theories (Einstein). A lot of recent science-fiction is about re-defining the parameters, not just the boundaries of scientific knowledge and technological possibilities, but also the parameters of free will. Good examples are:

The Host

– The Darwinian Theories –

And for the idea itself of law and social order:

Elysium or


The Maze Runner

The Hunger Games

I am not sure I entirely understand the state of the play of the Western world,(#2#) but there are some people, that have started to try to understand some facts underlying our current predicament. Too many of them are still shying away from speaking out, and there are too many that are shouting who have nothing to say, apart from blaming others for the unsolved problems – the government, the opposition, the bankers and the unions – the usual suspects!

Sometimes, if an engine has become unreliable, neither the driver, nor the conductor or the passengers are to blame. To put it simply, the engine has become obsolete and time has come to swap it out. Consider, just for a moment, how a social system dependent on growth (to pay for social security, ensure job security and to service debt), would act and function when the required amount of growth is unattainable. You might consider that system to look like the economy of the OECD Member States (OECD = Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).

My ambition is to ask tough questions and to collect the opinions of those who care to discover the path to a sustainable future for the people living in the OECD countries. We will need some substantial changes in our rules and organization. (The OECD’s origins date back to 1960, when 18 European countries plus the United States and Canada joined forces to create an organization dedicated to economic development.)

I sincerely dislike superficial hype about Information Technology. I believe that digitalization is an opportunity to improve the quality of life for all of us – those who live in the (still) rich world and those that live in developing countries. But as all opportunities there are also inherent risks, of misunderstanding where the true innovation lies and how to use it. Printed books, radio, cinema, television and, ultimately, internet have made knowledge more easily reachable, but also more easily manipulated.

As a lawyer, my ambition is to understand the rules that provide justice and peace for the next century and beyond. Good rules last for a long time. The “Ius Commune” of the ancient Romans lasted for 1,500 years after the end of the Roman Empire and its founding principles are still applied today as “Common Law”(#3#) in the Commonwealth of Nations and in the USA.

I believe many of our current laws will not last for another decade.

What will come next?

I have devoted 10 years of research to this question by reading books covering subjects like linguistics (in particular semiotics), archaeology, anthropology, history, neurology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, economics and Information Technology. Law has been a minor field of research; nonetheless, the whole analysis of the subject(s) is kept together by the aim to find new founding (legal) principles for a New Digital Social Agreement. It is a lawyer’s mind that has been reading through the vast literature, with absolutely no interest in being involved in any specialist/academic debate: even a wrong assumption may lead to a good question for understanding our way into the future!

In this work, I explain why I have chosen a certain theory about language or about human evolution, I will not try to put an end to discussions that have been going on since decades (if not centuries). I would have neither the scientific knowledge nor the authority to do so. Simply, I have chosen, on a case by case basis, what is the most compelling line of reasoning for me. Maybe I was (am) too dumb to understand more sophisticated theories, however, in my research I can go on only as far as my mind is able.

During my 10 years of study, I took the time to evolve and change my assumptions; recognizing my prejudices. I didn’t start writing because I felt that I have something to explain to others, but because I wanted to be able to ask the questions that are relevant to understanding our society; those which will allow us to construct a better future. This <<Wook!>> is a deep, meditated invitation to debate, to contribute, to build the future together.

I am also trying to escape from the scathing condemnation of writing, as Plato puts in Socrates mouth in Phaedrus 274a-275b, (#4#) “you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise”.

I cannot escape the baleful fate of a lone writer, without some help of my readers…

Instead of writing a book, I wrote a <<Wook!>>: my thoughts and my research are open for discussion, amendments, integration, extension… etc… Everyone who cares may contribute their knowledge and share their ideas. This <<Wook!>> does not end the discussion, it opens it.

Readers of my research shall not be passive, do partake in the outcome of the research offering information, insight, doubts, questions and criticism. This is not an opportunity to gaze passively at some printed words (that pretend to tell a truth), but a chance to be actively involved in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. In this <<Wook!>>, the author not only writes a tome, but also acts as a conductor for an orchestra of readers.

I don’t want to be right. My ambition is to find the right questions. If the questions are right, the right answers (there cannot be just one right answer) will follow through deep constructive debate.

This is a request for help. Students and researchers, please contribute with your ideas and information as you wish. This work is a living community of people who can comment, criticize, improve and amend the findings of this research over time.

I am excited to interact with you, and will try to learn, and hopefully teach you a thing or two. I hope my active readers will be prepared to make the same marvelous journey.

First – We will meditate on human nature and language. We believe that our uniqueness is self-evident. But we are wrong: genetically, behaviorally we are not so different from chimps or other evolved mammals. Also language is no longer believed to be unique to mankind: chimps change their utterances to match those of other apes, depending on where they live. Moreover, genetic engineering has gone so far that we will be able to engineer not just animals and plants, but even human beings. This is certain, not simply the subject for dystopic science fiction novels like those of Phlip L. Dick.

In the end, as far as we can tell, what really makes us unique to mankind is our ability (and need) to tell stories! We cannot exclude that, even before my generation dies out, we will have story telling machines and androids (thanks to Artificial Intelligence).(#5#) There will be biological specimens identical to us which will not be bred by parents, but generated in a laboratory.(#6#)

So, we will need to find profound answers to these questions:

  1. a) What is human?
  2. b) What is an animal? and
  3. c) Is a conscious being an object, just because it was fabricated (as opposed to naturally conceived)?

Second – We will reflect on the origins of law and on how human rules are different (or not) from rules governing animal groupings (packs, herds, droves, flocks, hives, etc.). We will see that there are very close connections between legal rules, language and the human way of life. It is self-evident that, if language and the human way of life change, then the laws will also follow suite. Language and the law are the two tools that mankind has used for adapting nature to human life. Without both of them there wouldn’t be such an evident and clear-cut difference between a human and an animal society. Without language and law, humans would still adapt to nature, instead of shaping it and the principles governing human life would not have changed as frequently and as fast as they have: other mammals still live in the same way as 20.000 years ago. Humans have undergone an incredible evolution during the same time; that is simply unthinkable without language and law.

Third – We will re-consider the role of written and oral knowledge in the human society. It is simply untrue that all (good, true) knowledge comes from books and other written documents. Perhaps it was never true that we learn mostly from written documents.

Fourth – We will understand that slavery and forced labor have been very difficult to abolish. It’s been less than a century since we have had a world almost completely freed from slavery. Regardless, almost 2,000,000,000 humans live in degrading poverty: their life is not much better than the life of a slave. Innovation and industrialization has lifted 1/8 of humanity out of poverty. Can the rest follow? Or will the gap grow wider and wider? Can we grasp that digitalization is already triggering a second new economy? How and on what basis?

Fifth – How has human law evolved from the Middle Ages until now? What are the evolutionary patterns that we may recognize? Will they work in a digital society? It is quite evident, looking into the history of commercial law, that the merchants of the 11th Century created rules for their trade, in the same way as the “new economy” companies did in the past two decades, when triggering the “e-commerce”.

Sixth and Seventh – We will try to define what is a digital society, while avoiding hype and banal descriptions. The precise definition of digital society is of paramount importance for understanding what rules will survive and what rules will die in the coming decades.

Eight – We will propose a set of principles and rules that will “work” in a society highly impacted by digital language, digital media, digital documents, digital interactions and ultimately a digital economy and a digital culture.

This work is dedicated to my children and their generation. When I was their age, the enthusiastic hope of improving life for everybody was a driving force. We were wrong in most of our assumptions, so we did not succeed. On the contrary, in the last 30 years our “Western” society has been savagely damaged; we are indebted like after a world war, with no winners, no moral high ground (or lesson taught) and thus no clear perspective for the future.

We are heading for a rough ride. But life is nothing else than a journey. And its beauty lies in the ability to master the unexpected. So the journey ahead of us will be of a savage beauty!

I hope that this <<Wook!>> will be one of your travel companions.

(#1#) D. Sedley, “Academy”, in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed., p. 4.

(#2#) “Western World” is an obsolete definition because there are many Eastern and Southern nations that have become rich, democratic and open. A better denomination is “OECD Countries” or simply “OECD”, in order to refer to the 34 nations that are currently members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

(#3#) Common Law is the English translation of “Ius Commune”.

(#4#)The online English version of Phaedrus is available at In the book, Plato explains the writing’s origin by quoting the mythological dialogue between Thoth, God of Writing, and the Egyptian king Thaum.

(#5#)“Clever Computers: The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence,” The Economist (6 May 2015),

(#6#) “Editing Humanity,” The Economist (22 August 2015),

Published: Thursday 13 October 2016
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